Having defended lawyers for thirty years and been in law firm risk management for fifteen years, I find myself becoming like the rural radio preachers of my younger days. These folks would get on a topic and pound away at it, almost without breathing. They connected all their thoughts with “and-a” and kept on going. I hope I am not that strident about you going to legal hell if you do not listen, but I freely admit to believing in the mission of preventing losses in the law practice as a reverse way to make money.
The practice of law is stressful and hard enough. You do not want to add in the cost of claims and the effect on your professional reputation by you not giving the necessary effort to prevent these losses. More importantly, a claim will cost you money. I do find myself regularly preaching that good loss prevention is both good business and even better client development and relations.
The approach of staff and lawyers becomes quite different when it is made absolutely clear to all that the law firm pays attention to both the quality of its work and its professional obligations. Task someone (in any size office) to be the ethics and conflict person for the firm. Have someone be familiar with your professional liability coverage and its requirements, and have someone be your quality control person. It can be one, or several, but you will be making money, rather than spilling it, with preventable types of claims.
Larger firms recognize this and often have one of its lawyers serve as its own General Counsel. Some even have a separate conflicts staff under a lawyer’s management. While smaller firms have to do it differently, they still need to have some established framework to:
• Screen for conflicts
• Discuss conflicts resolution
• Obtain and manage its LPL coverage
• Monitor for ethics issues
• Perform quality control on their work
• Educate all in the office on loss prevention
Once everyone knows these things matter, they then get noticed, reviewed, and monitored. The tone or approach of a firm to this can make a difference in its bottom line. I often say small slips can make big falls. Likewise, small preventative efforts matter. Mistakes can be caught and avoided with even basic loss prevention. Conflicts and ethical issues can be better addressed when the basics of a loss prevention program exist in any size office.
Of course, you could ignore these suggestions and just plow on without taking this time, and you would then deal with:
• Payment of your deductible to another firm
• Loss of lawyer and staff time
• Damage to the firm’s reputation
• Loss of clients
• Disgorgement of your fees already received
• Inability to get coverage
• Endure ethics complaints
So maybe I was wrong — you will go straight to Lawyer Hell if you do not take the time to do loss prevention in any office.